Back to the Future: Dice Through Time

2-4 players, Cooperative, Time Traveling Dice Placement

Designer: Ken Franklin, Chris Leder, Kevin Rodgers

Artwork: N/A

Publisher: Ravensburger

Release Year: 2020

Origin Story

As a long-time fan of the Back to the Future franchise I was pretty eager to get my hands on this. Not to mention that it incorporated dice in a way that I really enjoy with board games. The board is colorful, it has a theme I was sure to enjoy and intriguing sounding gameplay, what’s not to like? Read on to see if it lived up to my admittedly lofty expectations.

Overview of Gameplay

Dice Through Time utilizes some clever mechanics to not only create a sense of urgency but also enhance the theme of the game in a fun way. In a normal game round players will draw up a number of event cards depending on player count and resolve those one by one. Usually these will add new card additions to the game board in different time lines which will need to be resolved. Players will then all roll their four dice and then start performing the actions displayed on their respective dice in player order.

It’s simple enough really, there are a total of six different die icons that will allow you to move through the different time lines, remove paradox tokens, punch Biff in the face etc. Use two matching faced icons as ANY result and use any single die to move to an adjacent location in the year you are currently in. Once you spend your four dice, play moves to the next player until all players have spent all their dice. After that the “Outatime” marker will move forward a number of spaces matching the highest number of locations in a single time line that have events still. Then Paradox tokens will be added to those specific locations, the first player maker passes and BOOM! That’s a round.

Now, your objective in the game is to complete these pesky events which will allow you to collect an item card from the timeline where the event was completed. The player can hold up to two of these item cards and once acquired you will need to scoot on over to the appropriate time line and turn it in. Once turned in an item card will reward you with a random Einstein (the pooch) token which basically adds an extra universal action for any player. Ultimately, players will need to collect ALL the item cards from each year and return them to their proper time line. There is a difficulty variant built in so the “beginner” game is ranked at 2 item cards per year for a total of 8 items to return. Once all of these are returned, the players win!

However, losing is only a matter of time (hehe). Each round that “Outatime” marker will move based on the events bogging down locations and if it ever reaches the 12th space, its game over. The Paradox tokens that get scattered about will move it even more. PLUS, if you ever move into a space that another player inhabits, that’s two more spaces it will move. It literally is a fight against time in this game and of course what Back to the Future game would be complete without ol Biff.  There is a different Biff standee in each time line that randomly moves about based on the event cards played. If you ever move to a location with a Biff you WILL NOT be able to compete the events unless you sock him one in the ol kisser (use a fist icon on a die). Such a pesky dude.

Components/Game Board

The components are pretty good with the dice being the big stand out here. The dice have nice screen printed icons on them and a good hefty weight. The cardboard tokens and standees are pretty standard quality and the little plastic delorean cars make for nice player tokens. The game board itself is bright and vivid and looks really nice.

BUT, there are a few things that I need to point out as negatives. First, the small cards look really nice but they have this kind of slick feel to them that makes them VERY difficult to separate from one another. Considering you will be drawing up multiple event cards every round this is a slight annoyance. My biggest issue though is just how BUSY the board state becomes which leads to immense amounts of clutter and messiness. The board size is not all THAT big as it is but it could for sure stand to be a few inches bigger just to fit everything. Let me explain to you what I mean.

The board has nice dedicated spots for each year’s facedown item cards and a lovely tracker for the Outatime marker AND spots for the Einstein tokens. However, the spaces you will be playing on are super cramped. There are four different years, each with five different locations and at first it may look like there is plenty of space but as the game progresses you soon realize just how cramped the board really is. In a four player game you are to draw up EIGHT events each round and most of these cards will be placed randomly at the 20 different locations on the board, sometimes multiples at the same location. If that happens you just stagger the cards so you can see the dice icons needed. Beyond all the event cards, you also have the Biff standees getting in the way…..which is kinda thematic in its own way. Then the Delorean movers, THEN the paradox tokens and of course any other players dice they may have left there to help with an event. *Oh, but there’s more. You are expected to put the item cards that need to be returned on these spaces as well under all this mess. *NOTE: It was brought to my attention that you actually REMOVE the items cards from the game once you return them, not add them to the board. It’s not a game killer or anything but goodness. Good luck trying to keep all this organized, there just isn’t enough space!

Box/Storage

The box has a nice plastic insert that holds everything securely although you will need to bag up some of the tokens for a bit better organization. As a kind of cool added bonus the back of the board has a neat written “letter” from Doc Brown that gives an interesting lead in into the game. The folded up board fits nicely in the insert on top holding everything in nice and snug. Overall, a nice insert that does a great job!

Visual Appeal /Theme

The game looks great with the variety of colors on the board. The different time lines are further separated by color which creates an interesting divide between players as well. For example, the pink section is 2015 and that player will control the pink delorean BUT each player can freely travel to other time lines as well so you are never really locked into a specific time. The theme works excellently here particularly the paradox situations. Like, if two players meet at the same location this creates a rift in the time space continuum which causes the Outatime marker to advance. Multiple events in a time line can generate paradox tokens as well basically saying that too many uncontrolled things are happening at once. It is fun to try and manage all these things and how well they tie into the great theme.

The artwork is ok. The characters are representations of their real life counterparts but in a faceless almost creepy way. I will say though they really nailed all the different thematic elements from the movies on the event cards!

Rulebook

The rulebook is pretty good overall and explains how to setup the game and play it relatively quickly. I did have a bit of confusion with the turn structure, specifically how many dice a player can play on their turn before the next player goes. Of course, that could just be me interpreting it incorrectly. I do wish the explanations of various things were broken up a bit better though. Such as the explanation on how to return item cards or what the various Biffs do. Those sections seemed more or less intertwined with the rest of the explanations and seem better suited to having broken out sections dedicated to them.

On the plus side, the game comes with some VERY NICE player sheets you set in front of you when playing. These babies have explanations on each die face, the round order and are color coded to each player. Not only are these super helpful in learning the game but they also act as placement holders for the two items you can collect.

Player Interaction/Fun Factor

This game will rank super high on the player interaction level as players will NEED to cooperate to win this one. Between moving to others timelines and carefully navigating the areas that others are in, players will also need to plan out when to leave behind their own precious dice in order to help the team. I mean, you only have four dice to begin with and leaving behind even one drastically reduces your chances of rolling what you need to complete events. That said, this can be a critical move itself as some locations can really stack up the event cards, requiring multiple different dice to complete them.

Overall I had a decent amount of fun with this one. The co-op nature of the game really appeals to me and the way it works by starting each player in their own timeline but then allowing them to move about to others timelines to help is really clever. If there was one thing I think I would like even more, it would be more dice. I’m a sucker for handfuls of dice to roll and in this kind of game I think it would only enhance it. Perhaps a way to acquire more dice as you progress, akin to the many different “Rising” dice games such as Thanos Rising.

There are LOTS of event cards that all tie into the theme as I mentioned earlier but that’s all they do. Nothing about them is different other than the location they belong to and the icons needed to complete them. Every once in awhile you will see a little “chicken” icon which is the Biff movement action (love that it’s a chicken btw). That said, there are a small amount of ACTUAL events that shake things up such as move the Outatime marker back a couple spaces or make you reroll certain die faces during a single round. Those create a nice change of pace to the constant time loop of chasing location events.

Optimal Player Count/Replayability

I tried the game at 2, 3 and four player counts and for me, I found the three player count was the best. You see, regardless the amount of players you will still use the entire board, the only thing that changes is the amount of location events you have to draw at the onset of each round. At two players you will be drawing less events BUT you have to manage all four locations with just the two of you and with less chances to roll the die face to switch time lines, this can be a challenge.

On the flip side at four players you have all the locations covered EASILY….BUT, you now have a much bigger change of running up the Outatime marker by running into another player. Also you draw a whopping EIGHT event cards per round so the locations will fill up super-fast. I mean you REALLY need to play as a team if you want to win at this. But at three players I felt like the game played just right. A nice medium of five event cards, and three players navigating the four time lines just felt right. To be fair they do offer up an easy way to change the difficulty as well based on how many items per timeline are needed to win. So, if you every find the game too easy or too hard you can simply change that up.

Replayability is so-so. Even though there is a rather large stack of location event cards, you almost go through them all with a single play, especially at the higher player counts. And even then nothing about them really screams “replayability”. Another aspect of this is the item cards you need to collect as you only use a few of the total amount when playing and the rest go back into the box. That said, the items you flip certainly are thematic to the movies, but that’s it. Nothing about them changes any aspect of the game in any way. So, the game is replayable in the same sense any random dice game would be replayable. Nothing really changes from game to game, BUT if you like the randomness of dice rolling (as I do) then you will enjoy pulling this out again and again.

Positive Final Thoughts

Love the theme and the dice rolling mechanic. The co-op aspects are really well done and just beg players to work together but in a strategic way as not to inadvertently cause a paradox in the timeline and move that Outatime marker up. I think if you enjoy dice managing games and have a group of three, then this game will be a complete hoot for you!

Negative Final Thoughts

My biggest gripe is the over-cluttered game board, especially as a game progresses. Would prefer either more space to place everything and/or dedicated spaces for the cards and tokens on each location. The game felt a bit unbalanced at the two and four player counts. Also, MORE DICE PLEASE!

The Bottom Line

It’s a good game but almost feels like a good start to something greater. Perhaps an expansion later on will add some new mechanics, more dice to roll, smooth out the balance a bit. As it stands, I enjoy what is here but find myself constantly silently desiring more while playing it.

The Fuzzy Llama Bronze Seal of Prevalence

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